The Gift of Limits – Screen Style

Here’s a little Christmas idea for your kids this year…give them the gift of limits on their screen time.

Don’t expect them to jump for joy and sing your praises as if you just bought them the latest greatest video game.  But then, good parenting isn’t all about having our kids sing our praises, is it?  Here are some suggestions for establishing healthy screen time limits in your home:

1. Include all screens in “screen-time” rules and limits (TV, computer, video games, movies, even cell phone apps).  Let them decide which screen is most important to them on a given day.  Giving them this opportunity for making priority choices is a great way to help them grow an important life-skill.

2. Have regular limits on screen-time as a proactive measure – not just for punishment.

3. Take away portions of screen-time for punishment to maximize effectiveness.  Cutting that Wii time in half is sometimes more painful (effective) than taking it away completely.  Depending on the infraction, we cut our son’s screen-time out by three minute, five minute, half hour, and screen-type (no Wii, but internet is still on, etc) increments.  He only loses future screen-time if he has gone WAY out of bounds on a big issue like respect.

4. Be more rigid on school nights and more flexible on weekends, vacation time, etc.

5. Always be ready to offer positive alternatives to screen-time.  Playing catch outside, working a puzzle, playing a board game, reading a book, riding a bike – the sky’s the limit!

6. Set time limits based on age and other reasonable factors.  For example, we give our soon-to-be 7 year old an hour of screen-time on weeknights and leave it fairly open-ended on weekends.  We allow him “extra” screen-time during weekends because he is an only child, and we try to be realistic about that.  Also, you will have to make reasonable allowances for school-required screen time online.

7. Be in charge.  If you cave in to your child’s whines, manipulations, and complaints on a regular basis, you are letting them be in charge, and cheating them of your leadership.

8. Sprinkle grace into your disciplined structure.  Now and then, we let our son have extra screen-time “just because.”  Also, we don’t have a set system for earning more screen-time, but are willing to give him a bump at times when he has done something outstanding.  It’s always a big hit, and helps him realize we are not simply looking for ways to limit his fun.

9. Be as engaged in your child’s screen-time as possible.  Know what they are into, be present with them while using their screen-time as often as you can, and talk with them about what they like and what they think about what they are taking in via the screen.

10. Have reasonable screen-time limits in your own life.  If you tank this one, the first nine points won’t work too well for your family.

Merry Christmas and Happy Screen-Time to you and your family from Dr. Butner!

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